The fight against the education establishment extends to you too. The faculty, from adjunct professors to deans, tell you what to do, what to say, and more ominously, what to think. They say that if you voted for Donald Trump, you're a threat to the university community. But the real threat is silencing the First Amendment rights of people with whom you disagree.Everything about this statement, from the assertions made to the manner in which those claims are presented, is utterly false.
The goal of any reputable university is not to tell students what to think. It is to teach students to think critically and to think for themselves.
In my admittedly young career, I have worked as an instructor, lecturer, and assistant professor at three universities in three different states. That goal has always been the standard: How do we mold the next generation of young people into thinking, critically engaged adults ready to enter civic life and prosperous careers?
We wrestle with this every day. We literally lose sleep over it. And we don't always have a ready answer to this question given the delicate environment we face.
Generally speaking, college professors are a liberal bunch, oftentimes more liberal than our students. But we know that. And we also know that we exercise influence over our classrooms by virtue of our position.
With these considerations in mind, I've had numerous conversations with diligent and thoughtful peers and mentors about how we may temper our personal biases. We strive to avoid anything resembling indoctrination and work to maintain a free flow of ideas through honest debate.
We try to engage with students regarding current events and controversies in ways that allow students to express and debate a multitude of opinions. Oftentimes that means checking our own biases at the door, playing devil's advocate, and ensuring that oftentimes heated discourse among students remains civil so all feel confident that their voices will be heard and respected.
But remarks like those from Ms. DeVos and the underlying attitudes about ivory tower elitism make an already difficult task that much more so.
Professors and lecturers have in many cases become so fearful of accusations of undue influence that they actively avoid discussions of politics or any controversial topics for that matter. Such an approach is antithetical to the very idea of what education should be, and it has dangerous consequences for our democracy.
You can determine the quality of your education by answering a simple question: Was I ever made to feel uncomfortable?
I spend most of my days as a professor making students uncomfortable. I challenge their worldviews, regardless of what they are. That makes them uncomfortable. I ask them to explain why they say what they say, or think what they think. That makes them uncomfortable. I don't reward students for simply having opinions, but demand they justify their stances. That makes them uncomfortable.
A good educational environment allows students to test ideas in the marketplace, to learn that they are sometimes right and sometimes wrong, and to refuse to accept any statement or truism without reason or evidence. Depriving students of this opportunity creates a form of self-indoctrintation, where we all view ourselves as correct and the ultimate arbiters of truth because we never questions ourselves or others.
This insidious effect is more common than many might think, and it threatens our ability to sustain a democratic society. The inability to honestly debate ideas cripples our capacity to effectively address serious problems.
Educators, and the public writ large, must also understand that challenging an opinion is not the same as silencing one. If a student voices opposition to childhood vaccinations or support for school vouchers, I am not silencing her by asking, "Why?"
I want to know if her opinion is informed. I want her to think about the sources that inform that opinion. I want her to ask whether those sources are credible. I want her to ask what makes for a credible source. I want her to critically evaluate her own thought processes. I want to know if she's echoing someone else's thoughts, or if she is thinking for herself.
That is education. If Ms. DeVos has a differing opinion, I welcome her thoughts on the matter, but I'm going to ask her why she thinks as she does.